But South County’s victory Friday is evidence of a shift in the local football landscape that has been years in the making.
Westfield has long been the model for sustained success in Northern Virginia. Between 2015 and 2019, the Bulldogs won three state championships and lost just five games to local opponents. Each year they reloaded and reconfigured, turning any roster into a well-trained juggernaut.
In 2015, en route to the first of those championships, they faced South County in the state semifinals and steamrolled the Stallions, 40-8. South County Coach Tynan Rolander, then an assistant, remembers the coaches meeting after that game to discuss how their team could become more like Westfield.
“That is the exact blueprint we looked at and went to,” Rolander said. “We were every bit as talented as them that year. But we got the brakes beat off us. So we sat down and tried to figure out what they were doing that was so different from us and how they could be as successful as they are year in and year out.”
The answer, South County surmised, was culture. Westfield had great standards for success, on and off the field. The Bulldogs were disciplined, worked hard in the weight room and were smart. No matter his talent, every Westfield player knew where to be on the field and what to do in that position.
South County wanted all of that.
“From 2015 onwards, that process has been something we’ve worked on and are still working on,” Rolander said. “And in 2019, we got the fruition of what it was like to have a really awesome culture paired with a good coaching staff and an incredible group of kids.”
In that 2019 season, the Stallions went undefeated and earned the first state championship in program history. And in a state semifinal that can only be described as poetic, they beat Westfield.
Since reaching that level, South County has become the team that must work to sustain its success. Last spring, it returned to the state championship game with a new set of leaders, a feat that was formerly reserved for the team it beat Friday night.
“Going to the state championship twice makes it our standard now,” senior wide receiver Brock Spalding said. “Our standard is to work hard every time we’re on the field, every time we’re in the weight room. We want to push to be the best and act like we’re a state championship team.”
The Stallions (2-0), who had played just one scrimmage and one game before Friday because of coronavirus concerns on their team and others, looked hungry from the start. Their first completed pass was an 88-yard touchdown to Spalding, the first of his three touchdowns on the night.
Westfield (2-2) twice cut the South County lead to four points, but the Stallions always stayed a step ahead.
“We have some work to do,” Spalding said. “But when this group is really rolling, it’s unstoppable.”